Last weekend, I made my first visit to City Lit Books in Logan Square. This was exciting for a number of reasons: First, I finally live in Chicago (not the suburbs) and I am determined to visit every independent bookstore I haven’t been to yet (and hence also write many more posts on this site). Second, I feel a little tied to City Lit as the founder of LitCity. And third, this month they’re featuring a Book Apothecary, curated by bibliotherapists.
I’ve always been a supporter of therapy and a lover of books, so I was naturally thrilled about this concept. After interviewing a number of independent publishers in the Chicago area*, I found their answers to “Why is reading so important?” the most interesting. All of them said, in some form, that reading develops empathy — it feeds the soul. This resonated with me, as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many people I’ve met who say they “don’t like reading” or “can’t remember the last time they read a book” seem to be lacking just a bit in the empathy area. Or perhaps that’s just my lack of empathy for non-book lovers. Either way, reading truly is one of the easiest methods to access different perspectives and experiences from your own.
We’re also comforted when reading because we suddenly feel a little less alone. We see there are others who experience the same frustrations and pains we do. And then sometimes we see that maybe our struggles aren’t so bad or so difficult to overcome — we’re inspired by the stories of others who overcame greater odds.
On a Saturday evening, City Lit opened its doors to those looking for a little comfort, and invited five writers to read from works they would prescribe. Kyle Beachy, Rebecca Makkai, Kathleen Rooney, Martin Seay and Christine Sneed all read from their selections and highlighted the ailments they hoped these books might help.
Immediately following the readings, bibliotherapists were available to hear about your ailments and prescribe their literary treatments. At the front of the bookstore were shelves of books marked “bibliotherapy” and matched with common maladies. It is this extra touch that I loved and that will bring me back to the store. It would have been easy for these to just have been a series of readings, but the personalization really made it feel like the store had an interest in both sharing great works and getting to know its customers.
On hand as the bibliotherapist that night was writer Ben Tanzer. I’ve seen Ben’s name attached to a number of local literary events, so I think it is safe to say he is a Chicago literary scene celebrity. I trusted him to give good recommendations, and he didn’t fail. My boyfriend and I came to him with our ailment of “Perfectionism,” mine leaning toward excessive people-pleasing. He recommended something a little edgier, a little less perfectly pleasing, and with a little humor. As any good book lover and bibliotherapist would do, his recommendation led to several other recommendations, until we had a pretty full prescription card (yes, the bibliotherapists actually had their own version of prescription pads). He assessed what types of books each of us liked to read and what might match our personalities. Among those he recommended to me are, “We the Animals” by Justin Torres, “Once I Was Cool” by Megan Stielstra, and “Meaty” by Samantha Irby. I’ve officially added these all to my reading list.
In addition to more books, I’ve also discovered another bookstore I’ll be making frequent visits to. City Lit is great space for intimate literary events and leisurely book browsing, all supported by a friendly and engaged staff. The Book Apothecary is running now until the end of April, so make sure to stop in for your prescription!
*So, it’s now been about four years since I interviewed these independent publishers and I’ve yet to follow through on my promise to share these clips on this website. I’ve also claimed I’d make several comebacks and revamp this website. I once had interns. But the 9-to-5 life took over, so I’ve decided to take this all is it comes and am posting when inspired. You may one day actually see these videos…or they’ll be so old that I’ll end up recording new ones and sharing them with you. Either way, it’s a win.